Lakers miss the playoffs? Won’t happen
I rolled into the Red Dog Saloon in my adopted hometown of Tucson that Saturday night a few years back, with two things on my mind.
First was a cold bottle of suds, with a game or two of pool coming in a close second.
No sooner did I put my quarters on the table when a lil’ wisp of a fella with thick, smudged glasses and wrinkled pants made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
We’d play the standard dollar a ball, but he’d only play with one arm.
I’m not a pool shark by any stretch of the imagination, but this was going to be just like pie: easy.
I broke, but didn’t sink anything. That’s when the lesson began.
He made his first shot, then his second, third, fourth and fifth.
The back of my neck got hot, and my stomach began to ache as I realized I’d been hustled.
I get that same sinking feeling when I hear the growing majority of sports pundits – both radio and television – who have announced the demise of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers.
These people, just like the of rest us, saw the three-time defending champs come up short in 11 of their first 19 games, including double-digit losses to perennial doormats Cleveland, Atlanta and Miami.
“The Lakers are a joke,” one of those talking heads would say. “Showtime has been relegated to the WB Network,” his pal would chime in.
I can’t blame Kings fans who look at the recent developments in SoCal with a certain amount of joy.
The Kings have been bounced from the playoffs three straight seasons, including last year’s seven-game, drama-filled series.
But I’m here to say the Lakers, like one of those horror movie psycho killers, are far from dead.
Before you Kings fans form a mob and give me a mass wedgie, look at the numbers.
Los Angeles’ record dropped to eight games under .500, thanks to a 105-99 homecourt loss to the Kings on Christmas Day, yet since have beaten opponents by an average of 16 points per game to win seven of their last nine.
Sure, three of those have been over teams with a combined 38-79 record, but L.A. did register wins over Phoenix and New Orleans.
In that span, Kobe Bryant has gone off for more than 35 points five times, including a 45-point explosion in a 119-98 win over Seattle Jan. 7.
Shaquille O’Neal’s toe seems to have mended well as the big man has had a gaggle of 35-plus point games as well.
Their supporting cast is also starting to get the job done.
If the playoffs began today, the Lakers, with the ninth best record in the Western Conference, would be forced to watch the playoffs on the tube for the first time in recent memory.
But the playoffs don’t tip off until April.
If – and it’s a big if – the Lakers put a couple of 10-plus win streaks together in the next three months, they have a shot at qualifying for the postseason as an eighth, or maybe a seventh, seed.
Picture that. The Lakers as underdogs in a best-of-five series.
Keith Jiron is a sports reporter with The Union. He can be reached via e-mail at
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Hank Sowell’s introduction to the game of golf came early as a set of clubs was among the gifts he received on his very first birthday.